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Emotional Responses to Music - The Need to Examine Underlying Mechanisms

Emotional Responses to Music - The Need to Examine Underlying Mechanisms

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Emotional responses to music:The need to consider underlyingmechanisms
Patrik N. Juslin
Department of Psychology, Uppsala University, SE-75142 Uppsala, Sweden 
Daniel Va¨stfja¨ll
Department of Psychology, Go ¨ teborg University,SE-40530 Go ¨ teborg, Sweden 
Research indicates that people value music primarily because of the emotions it evokes. Yet, the notion of musical emotionsremains controversial, and researchers have so far been unable to offer a satisfactory account of such emotions. We argue that the study of musical emotions has suffered from a neglect of underlying mechanisms. Specifically, researchers have studied musical emotions without regard to how they were evoked, or have assumed that the emotions must be based on the “default” mechanism foremotion induction, a cognitive appraisal. Here, we present a novel theoretical framework featuring six additional mechanismsthrough which music listening may induce emotions: (1) brain stem reflexes, (2) evaluative conditioning, (3) emotional contagion,(4) visual imagery, (5) episodic memory, and (6) musical expectancy. We propose that these mechanisms differ regarding suchcharacteristics as their information focus, ontogenetic development, key brain regions, cultural impact, induction speed, degree of  volitional influence, modularity, and dependence on musical structure. By synthesizing theory and findings from different domains, we are able to provide the first set of hypotheses that can help researchers to distinguish among the mechanisms. We show thatfailure to control for the underlying mechanism may lead to inconsistent or non-interpretable findings. Thus, we argue that the new framework may guide future research and help to resolve previous disagreements in the field. We conclude that music evokesemotions through mechanisms that are not unique to music, and that the study of musical emotions could benefit the emotion fieldas a whole by providing novel paradigms for emotion induction.
affect; arousal; brain; emotion; induction; music; mechanism; memory; theory 
1. Introduction
Of all the problems that may confront a music psycholo-gist, none is perhaps more important than to explain listen-ers’ reactions to music. Some kind of musical experience isthe basis for every musical activity, regardless of whether itinvolves composing, performing, or listening to music.Several studies have suggested that the most commongoal of musical experiences is to influence emotions:People use music to change emotions, to release emotions,to match their current emotion, to enjoy or comfort them-selves, and to relieve stress (e.g., Behne 1997; Juslin &Laukka 2004; Sloboda & O’Neill 2001; Zillman & Gan1997).Yet, music’s apparent ability to induce strong emotionsis a mystery that has fascinated both experts and lay people at least since ancient Greece (Budd 1985). “How do sounds, which are, after all, just sounds, have thepower to so deeply move those involved with them?”(Reimer 2003, p. 73). To explain how music can induceemotions in listeners is all the more important sincemusic is already used in several applications in society that presume its effectiveness in inducing emotions, suchas film music (Cohen 2001), marketing (Bruner 1990),and therapy (Bunt & Hoskyns 2002).However, despite a recent upswing of research onmusical emotions (for an extensive review, see Juslin &Sloboda 2001), the literature presents a confusing picture with conflicting views on almost every topic in the field.
A few examples may suffice to illustrate this point:Becker (2001, p. 137) notes that “emotional responses tomusic do not occur spontaneously, nor ‘naturally’,” yetPeretz (2001, p. 126) claims that “this is what emotionsare: spontaneous responses that are difficult to disguise.”Noy (1993, p. 137) concludes that “the emotions evokedby music are not identical with the emotions aroused by everyday, interpersonal activity,” but Peretz (2001, p. 122)argues that “there is as yet no theoretical or empiricalreason for assuming such specificity.” Koelsch (2005,p. 412) observes that emotions to music may be induced“quite consistently across subjects,” yet Sloboda (1996,p. 387) regards individual differences as an “acuteproblem.” Scherer (2003, p. 25) claims that “music doesnot induce basic emotions,” but Panksepp and Bernatzky (2002, p. 134) consider it “remarkable that any mediumcould so readily evoke all the basic emotions.” ResearchersBEHAVIORAL AND BRAIN SCIENCES (2008)
, 559–621
Printed in the United States of America 
2008 Cambridge University Press 0140-525X/08 $40.00 
do not even agree about whether music induces emotions:Sloboda (1992, p. 33) claims that “there is a general consen-sus that music is capable of arousing deep and significantemotions,” yet Konec ˇ ni (2003, p. 332) writes that “instru-mental music cannot directly induce genuine emotions inlisteners.”At the heart of all this controversy, we believe, lies thefact that researchers have not devoted enough attentionto the question of 
music induces emotions. Most writers on the subject acknowledge that this is the mostimportant issue: “Music arouses strong emotional responsesin people, and they want to know why” (Dowling &Harwood 1986, p. 202). Yet, a search of the literaturereveals that surprisingly few articles make any attempt whatsoever to explain the psychological mechanisms thatunderlie listeners’ emotional responses to music. Forinstance, a search for peer-reviewed articles (in English)in
RILM Abstracts of Music Literature
,using the query music
and emotion
and the time limits1967–2007, revealed 1,033 and 423 articles, respectively,of which a single article in
(i.e., Steinbeis et al.2006) and noneofthe articlesin
aimed toempirically test a theory about how music induces emotions; 21 articlesin each database (2% and 5%, respectively) mentioneda mechanism, or the issue of emotion induction moregenerally, without reporting any relevant data.
Althoughthese searches may not have uncovered every relevantarticle, the point is that the great majority of studiesof musical emotions have not concerned underlyingmechanisms. We use the term
psychological mechanism
broadly inthis article to refer to any information processing thatleads to the induction of emotions through listening tomusic.
This processing could be simple or complex. Itcould be available to consciousness or not. However, what the mechanisms discussed here have in common isthat they become activated by taking music as their“object.” We adhere to the notion that a defining featureof emotions is that they involve intentional objects: They are “aboutsomething (Frijda 1999, p. 191). Forexample, we are sad about the death of a loved one. What are musical emotions about?One problem with musical emotions is that the conditionsfor eliciting emotions appear to be different from those ineveryday life: In the paradigmatic case, an emotion isaroused when an event is appraised as having the capacity to affect the goals of the perceiver somehow (Carver &Scheier 1998). Thus, for example, a reviewer’s criticism of a manuscript may threaten the author’s goal to get it pub-lished. Because music does not seem to have any capacity to further or block goals, it seems strange that music caninduce emotions. Indeed, it has been denied by someauthorsthat music caninduce common“everydayemotions”such as sadness, happiness, and anger (Kivy 1990; Konec ˇ ni2003; Scherer 2003). We suspect that this view rests on theassumption that such emotions need to reflect a
(see Gabriel & Crickmore [1977], Scherer &Zentner [2001], Stratton & Zalanowski [1989; 1991], and Waterman [1996]) for claims about an important role of cognitive appraisal in emotional responses to music).The main assumption of appraisal theory is thatemotions arise, and are distinguished, on the basis of aperson’s subjective evaluation of an event on appraisaldimensions such as novelty, urgency, goal congruence,coping potential, and norm compatibility (for an excellentreview, see Scherer 1999). Occasionally, music may lead tothe induction of emotions through some of the sameappraisal dimensions. Thus, for example, a person may be trying to sleep at night, but is prevented from doingso by the disturbing sounds of a neighbor playing loudmusic on his or her stereo. In this case, the musicbecomes an object of the person’s irritation because itblocks the person’s goal: to fall asleep. Although thereis nothing particularly “musical” about this example, it isclear that music can sometimes induce emotions in listen-ers in this manner (Juslin et al., in press). Such responsescan easily be explained by traditional theories of emotion.However, the problem is that the available evidence indi-cates that this type of emotion is not typical of music liste-ning – most emotional reactions to music do
involveimplications for goals in life, which explains why they areregarded as mysterious: “The listener’s sad responseappears to lack the beliefs that typically go with sadness”(Davies 2001, p. 37).Because music does not seem to have goal implications,some researchers have assumed that music cannot induceemotions at all (Konec ˇ ni 2003) – or, at least, that it cannotinduce basic emotions related to survival functions (Kivy 1990; Scherer 2003).
Some researchers allow for thepossibility that music may induce “more subtle, music-specific emotions” (Scherer & Zentner 2001, p. 381; seealso Gurney 1880; Lippman 1953; Swanwick 1985), theprecise nature of which remains to be clarified. Thisnotion is sometimes coupled with the assumption thatmusical emotions are induced through some unique (but yet unspecified) process that has little or nothing incommon with the induction mechanisms of “ordinary
N. J
is Associate Professor of Psychology at Uppsala University, Sweden, where he teachescourses on music, emotion, perception, and researchmethodology. He completed his Ph.D. in 1998 underthe supervision of Alf Gabrielsson. Juslin has publishednumerous articles in the areas of expression in musicperformance, emotional responses to music, musiceducation, and emotion in speech. In 2001, he editedthe volume
Music and Emotion: Theory and Research
together with JohnSloboda. Juslin and Sloboda are cur-rently editing a handbook on music and emotion. Juslinis a member of the International Society for Researchon Emotions. Alongside his work as a researcher, hehas worked professionally as a guitar player.D
is a Research Scientist at DecisionResearch, Eugene, Oregon, U.S.A., and Assistant Pro-fessor of Psychology and Psychoacoustics at Go ¨ teborgUniversity and Chalmers University of Technology,Sweden. His educational history includes Ph.D.’s inboth Psychology and Acoustics. His research focuseson the role of emotion in judgment, perception, andpsychophysics. A common theme for his research ishow emotion serves as information for judgmentsabout objects, the self, and health. His current researchfocus is on the relationship between music andemotion, particularly on how acoustic parameters con-tribute to emotional responses. Va ¨ stfja ¨ ll is currently heading research projects on the link between musicand health and on the psychoacoustics of musicalemotion.
Juslin & Va ¨ stfja ¨ ll: Emotional responses to music560
emotions. We reject these views on both theoretical andempirical grounds, and claim that music can induce a wide range of both basic and complex emotions in listeners via several psychological mechanisms that emotions tomusic share with other emotions.The primary argument of this target article is thatresearch on music and emotion has failed to becomecumulative because music researchers have either neg-lected underlying psychological mechanisms or assumedthat musical emotions reflect a cognitive appraisal. Weargue that it is important to look beyond appraisal theory and consider alternative but less obvious ways in whichmusic might induce emotions. While appraisal may beimportant for many forms of art (Silvia 2005), there areother mechanisms that are far more relevant in the caseof music. We claim that if these additional mechanismsare taken into account, there is nothing particularly strangeabout results that suggest that music induces all kinds of emotions (Gabrielsson 2001, Table 19.2).The problem is that most researchers seem to have mis-takenly assumed that musical emotions can be studied anddescribed without regard to how they were induced. Moststudies have not controlled for the underlying mechanism,despite their attempts to generalize about the nature of musical emotions. Unfortunately, as discussed further insections 4.1 and 4.4, failure to distinguish between mech-anisms may lead to apparently inconsistent findings andunnecessary controversy among researchers. We believethat the solution to this problem is a more hypothesis-driven approach that takes the characteristics of eachmechanism into account. Such an approach is proposedin this article.In the following, we (a) review evidence from differentkinds of sources to show that, despite claims to the con-trary, music
induce emotions, (b) present a noveltheoretical framework, featuring six psychological mech-anisms and 66 hypotheses, that explains how suchemotions are induced, (c) consider how this framework might guide future research and help to resolve previousdisagreements, and (d) discuss implications for researchon emotions in general and musical emotions in particular.
2. Does music really induce emotions?
Studies of music and emotion have been conducted off and on since psychology’s birth at the end of the nine-teenth century (Gabrielsson & Juslin 2003). The majority of studies have focused on how listeners
emotionsexpressed in the music. Similarly, most theories of musicand emotion have focused on the representational featuresof music that enable listeners to perceive emotions (e.g.,Clynes 1977; Cooke 1959; Langer 1957). However, per-ception of emotions is primarily a sensory or cognitiveprocess that does not necessarily say anything about what the listener himself or herself is
, since percep-tion of emotions may well proceed without any emotionalinvolvement (Gabrielsson 2002; Harre´ 1997). Hence,induction of emotions must be studied in its own right. With an increasing number of studies devoted to explor-ing emotional responses to music, we are in a good pos-ition to answer more definitively the long-standingquestion of whether music really can induce emotions.However, the answer to this question depends on how emotion is defined. Table 1 offers working definitions of affective terms used in this article, based on the emergingconsensus in research on affect (e.g., Davidson et al. 2003,p. xiii; Juslin & Scherer 2005, Table 3.1; Oatley et al. 2006,pp. 29–31).Although researchers may not agree on a precise defi-nition of emotions, they largely agree on the characteristicsand components of an emotional response (e.g., Izard2007). As shown in Table 1, emotions are typicalldescribed as relatively brief, though intense, affective
Table 1.
Working definitions of affective terms used in this target article
Affect An umbrella term that covers all evaluative or valenced (i.e., positive
negative) – states such asemotion, mood, and preference.Emotions Relatively intense affective responses that usually involve a number of sub-components subjective feeling, physiological arousal, expression, action tendency, and regulation – whichare more or less synchronized. Emotions focus on specific objects, and last minutes to afew hours.Musical emotions A short term for emotions that are induced by music.Moods Affective states that feature a lower felt intensity than emotions, that do not have a clear object,and that last much longer than emotions (several hours to days).Feeling The subjective experience of emotion (or mood). This component is commonly measured viaself-report and reflects any or all of the other emotion components.Arousal Activation of the autonomic nervous system (ANS). Physiological arousal is one of the componentsof an emotional response but can also occur in the absence of emotions (e.g., during exercise).Preferences Long-term evaluations of objects or persons with a low intensity (e.g., liking of a specific musicstyle).Emotion induction All instances where music evokes an emotion in a listener, regardless of the nature of the processthat evoked the emotion.Emotion perception All instances where a listener perceives or recognizes expressed emotions in music (e.g., a sadexpression), without necessarily feeling an emotion.Cognitive appraisal An individual’s subjective evaluation of an object or event on a number of dimensions in relationto the goals, motives, needs, and values of the individual.
Juslin & Va ¨ stfja ¨ ll: Emotional responses to music

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